Why clubs like Hearts and Hibs should still be planning recruitment for next season amidst wage cuts
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On Wednesday, the 55 Uefa member associations will meet via video conference to discuss the future of European football, including the rescheduling of matches for when the coronavirus pandemic is over and a semblance of normality resumes.
One can only imagine what hare-brained ideas will be put forward or concocted from various lairs around Europe. A seven-a-side tournament in Baku, all games played on the same day to decide a winner of Europe. Perhaps inspiration from Alexander Lukashenko, the Belarus president who thinks football, vodka and saunas are the remedy to the virus.
These meetings would certainly deserve the David Squires treatment, but even the Guardian cartoonist may have a difficult time making Uefa seem outlandish.
Yet, perhaps most interestingly, time will be given to the issue of player contracts and the transfer system. It is something which has prompted plenty of intrigue, especially in Scottish football.
The big story has centred around Hearts. The Tynecastle club were the first to approach staff about a wage cut. It was a move which has seen plenty of criticism and barbs aimed at Ann Budge from Scottish football fans and pundits. In turn the club released a lengthy statement to outline their proactive position, Budge noting she is not sitting back waiting for a "miracle".
Other clubs, both in Scotland and around Europe, have since entered talks with players and staff about wage cuts or deferrals. No team, no matter who they are, can endure little income for a sustained period of time.
Budge also railed against a report in a newspaper regarding an email which was sent from the club's head of pro player recruitment John Murray to agents suggesting Hearts may have funds to spend in the transfer window. The statement made clear there was no “pot of money” available.
The aesthetics weren’t great, with the email understood to have been circulated amongst the players. It could certainly be labelled a PR gaffe, but it certainly wasn’t a heinous crime.
The only thing wrong in this situation was the timing.
Hearts are by no means the only club looking ahead, analysing players for next season and putting plans in place.
Rivals Hibs may be looking at possible wage deferrals, but they too are still continuing with their transfer plans as best they can.
What else are clubs meant to do in this situation? Get their scouting and analytical team to down tools or follow media outlets starved of content by analysing games from years gone by? Wage cuts and planning recruitment for next season are not mutually exclusive.
If clubs are not using this period to analyse players in-depth via outlets like Wyscout, refining their shortlists for different positions then they could easily be criticised for negligence. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail and all that jazz.
Picture it. Fast forward five or so months when football may have started up again. Managers pacing in front of a whiteboard ahead of their opening game. ‘S**t’, ‘s**t’,‘s**t!’. The assistant dodges the whiteboard wiper which has been aimed in their direction simply for being in the room. The goalkeeper coach is out of retirement, a centre-back the manager has never seen play signed after his release from Maltese side Tarxien Rainbows starts and Lee Trundle in attack.
Plans from A to Z
Of course, there are those teams that have no idea what division they will be in or if they will be in Europe. As for the playing budget, it is anyone’s guess. But this only makes preparation even more vital.
As Hibs’ sporting director Graeme Mathie said: “I think it is the case in recruitment all the time, you need to try and plan as best you can for as many eventualities as you can.”
It is very unlikely clubs will be thinking about offers, yet they will be putting together an array of plans. From A right through to Z, depending on what their situation is come the point a semblance of normality returns. That way, no matter the scenario they are presented with they are able to both adapt and hit the ground running with a solution. ‘Discard that idea, let’s go with this one’.
The last thing clubs will want to do having come through a period of financial unease is take risks when making signings. More than ever, this is where recruitment teams, the scouts and analysts, can really earn their crust. Watching and scrutinising. Planning and refining. Minimising the wastage.
One proposal mooted down south is for the transfer window to be extended well beyond the end of August and possibly until January. It is far from the worst idea. Not only would it provide clubs with flexibility, it should alleviate any need to rush and end up panic buying.
It would be a sensible response to an unprecedented situation.
Just as clubs are being sensible and doing anything and everything they can in these strange times to ensure they are ready for the resumption. That includes recruitment and may stop Scottish managers having to rely on the third-choice centre-back from Tarxien Rainbows.